By now, almost everyone knows the name of Louis Braille, who in the 1820’s learned of a complicated system of “night-writing” (designed originally for soldiers to communicate silently), and adapted it to become the worldwide standard for reading and writing by the blind. The UK’s acceptance of Braille began in the 1870’s, and other historical landmarks followed: the first mechanical Perkins Brailler in 1951, the first full-page Braille embosser 20 years later and, probably most significant of all to an audience today, the first refreshable Braille display in 1975.
Technologically, Braille has become a lot more complicated than Louis’s initial discovery might seem to indicate. While the idea of the Braille Cell is simple ( ⠿ just 2 columns of 3 dots each!) The connectivity of today’s modern world, the variety of Braille codes in use for everything from maths to music and the sheer range of places where Braille technology can be used for education, work or leisure means sometimes you may need a helping hand.
What can I offer?
I have firsthand experience of the majority of Braille displays and notetakers on the market in the UK, and a detailed understanding of all the screen reading and Braille translation software commonly in use. I can therefore advise on which devices to buy for particular purposes, help you in their use, advise on interoperability between Braille equipment and other technologies (computers, phones, tablets etc) and also assist with any adaptations needed (such as customizing keyboard shortcuts or Braille commands).
I am thoroughly independent and won’t sell you anything other than honest advice and guidance, backed up with my decades-long use of a variety of Braille equipment. Of course I have particular equipment I have preferred over the years and I can’t but help appreciate that more, but I’m selling not just my special expertise, but also the history that goes with it. I am not easily swayed by modern gimmicks and have no time for salesmanship and, if I recommend a product in particular it will be because it has physically been in my hands and used to a similar purpose to your own for an appreciable length of time.
I have used Braille since I was 5 years old, am fully-accredited in Unified English Braille (both literary and mathematical) and have received training from several Braille display manufacturers and distributors over the years. I have chosen not to pursue further qualifications in reading and writing Braille, I already have GCSEs and A-levels in English after all!
Is it worth learning Braille?
Parents of young children often ask me this, and it’s an understandable question. The sentences “they shall not grow old” and “⠠⠮⠽⠀⠩⠀⠝⠀⠛⠗⠪⠀⠕⠇⠙” look very different, although they mean exactly the same thing. Worry about not understanding a child’s sight loss often extends to not being able to understand Braille, and it is tempting to think that talking technology can read to you perfectly well.
Whilst there’s no denying a print reader has a big learning curve, for someone born blind, consider that Braille will be as natural to them as print is to you. If you ask me to think of the letter q, I don’t see the print q, I see a Braille ⠟ in my mind first. So think of it as just as reasonable a way of writing as any other, just one with which you yourself are less familiar. There are many very solid arguments for introducing Braille to do with accuracy of spelling, punctuation and familiarity with other written and typographical conventions that audiobooks ignore, and it’s also very nice to be able to stop listening to the world for a while and become engrossed in something in your own head.
In terms of future impact, blind adults in employment who can read Braille far outstrip those who cannot. And if you have perhaps lost sight later in life and never intend to sit and read a full novel in Braille, being able to play a hand of cards, identify medication, label items around your home or just jot down a phone number is just a small sampling of the benefits of some Braille knowledge.
If you have a piece of Braille equipment, are needing some advice on obtaining one or have any questions or training needs at all, please get in touch to see if I can assist.